Taking a break

The best preparation you'll ever receive for your most agonizing trials will be when you are the only student in class. In the midst of you deepest difficulties, have you ever looked around and thought, Where is everybody? Sometimes God reserves the right to withhold others, to pull you aside with Him, so that you can experience what David did in I Samuel, "David found strength in the Lord his God." ~ Living Beyond Yourself online Bible study by Beth Moore

I am going to take a one week hiatus from blogging and other online presence. I need a week to focus on school and family. See you in a week!

Fun-filled weekend

Aaron and I are off to a conference on love this weekend. Then a wedding (I'm assuming the focus of that will also be love). Fun is fun...but it can also be exhausting! My pain made a major resurgence the last day of vacation, and continues today. Wondering how I will make it through a 14 hour day tomorrow, and how Percocet will affect my ability to soak up the conference. Prayers, please?

Through the eldest's eyes

My eldest is a deep pool. I only get glimpses below the surface, and it takes a hefty infusion of quality time to get those rare glimpses. She is most definitely not the heart on her sleeve type. When something does initiate an emotional response, I know to pay attention, because emotional response is not her normal reaction.

I enjoyed some time spent with her this morning, looking at and editing a few of her photos from her "kid camera". The little glimpse into what makes this beloved tick was a revelation, and a joy.

Papa reading morning devotions [watercolor study].

Mama's hands preparing hot chocolate and brownies on a cold winter morning.

Family movie night vignette.

Favorite kitten.

Scrollwork on Mama's piano.

Line drawing of a sunrise.

Flashlight games.

Sister's smile and rosy cheeks one frosty evening outdoors!

Cousin in playroom.

Team spirit.

My mistake

I re-read my Haiti post and went running for C.S. Lewis' Problem of Pain, a permanent fixture in my bedside book pile since cancer struck in mid 2008. I found the quote I was looking for, and feel humbly corrected. I love it when God whispers truth in your soul, and you are able to track down something that describes what was just an internal sense.

"Those who would like the God of scripture to be more purely ethical do not know what they ask."

My soul breathes deep

Whew. A deep breath for the soul, and the body. Cancer de-saturates life. Everything gets a little pale as you struggle through the current of ongoing trials. And then God is merciful, and your soul breathes in deep and expands, and you remember how colorful and vibrant life really is. What a gift it is.

I read this verse in Jeremiah yesterday, and it echoes the constant cry of my heart since June 2008. When I really look deep into my heart, I see the blackness there, the many ways I've hurt others, or disappointed them, or gone back on my word; the selfishness and anger and disinterest and pride that eats out from the center. I know God sees it, even clearer through Holy eyes. Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger lest you bring me to nothing. (Jeremiah 10:24)

He corrects me - but in justice. Not in His anger. I am not brought to nothing. I am here, vacationing in Wisconsin Dells with some of my best friends in the world. I breathed in as much air as my lungs could hold just in case I drowned on a thrilling ride called "The Toilet Plunge". Hilarious that I begged more that my life be spared on that ride than before I enter surgery! I really thought it was in danger - in the next few seconds! Luckily, they hire some decent engineers when they decide to flush people down gigantic toilets. Then a lovely dinner, delivered by train, with Thomas the Tank Engine on the big screen. The first time in months I haven't had to wrestle my son to keep him in his seat for an entire meal. And finally, an icy wind blowing Ali and I across a ski hill on our snowboards. Discovering that snowboarding is truly "like riding a bike" was priceless. So much in my life has changed, it makes me ever more thankful when I discover something that hasn't. I still love the crunch and swoosh of the snow away from my board as I glide through high-speed S-curves all the way down the hill. The thrill of teaching someone to love it is just the same, too.

What a wonderful week! God is so good to me.

Shaking things up

Here once the Deluge plowed,
Laid the terraces, one by one;
Ebbing later whence it flowed,
They bleach and dry in the sun.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, My Garden

The sun-bleached images of late winter wash over my soul and reveal the new structure God has built in the last few months.  New terraces for hope and solace.  New supports for faith and fear - the good kind of fear, the fear that is awe of the Holy.  I am pondering Haiti, and disasters, and what they tell us about the face of the God we cannot see.  What does it mean to be planted in a prosperous culture, and what is our burden as Christians...even as people with humanity and empathy...to do for those who suffer great losses with few resources for recovery?

The mass grave I visited in El Salvador comes to mind in strobe-like flashes, images I'll never get rid of.  I remember the late night up watching the personal video one parishioner shot as they attempted to dig his wife and son out of the rubble.  I remember how deeply I felt how little I had to offer, despite my training and prosperity and faith.  The incalculable loss still weighs heavy.  I remember open fractures I feebly tried to cast four months after the fact.  I remember gangrene, and pain, and a woman with a baby inside her swollen abdomen that had been dead for at least a month.  My body hasn't carried those burdens.  It's quite possible it never will.  But I carry the burdens of all those people in my soul, in my mind.  Turning them over like confusing little stones I've picked up along the way, stones I can't fathom the origin of, stones I can't find a place for in my brain.  I have no way to categorize or make sense of tragedy on this scale.

We are fundraising, in February, to support a mission team from our city that will make several trips to provide medical care to the Haitians.  I would have gone, in years past.  Now I will work hard with other talents to send others.  It's a hard thing to do, because I so desire to go with.  Anyone who has known the exponential spiritual growth and level of connection with God that mission work sometimes brings will understand why.  Yet right now He calls me to be faithful at home.

How to face the Creator who spared but one family from the great flood?  The Creator who leveled Sodom and Gommorah, and followed through on His promise to turn any one who looked back into a pillar of salt?  What questions could I possibly bring to the Throne regarding Haiti, when that Throne issued the downfall of countless cities and tells us to watch for famines and earthquakes as His return grows near?  Some days, I distinctly dislike serving the awesome God I serve.  I wish He were a little less awesome, a little less flamboyant, a little less sure of Himself.  A little less "God" and a little more human.  I remember thinking the same thing about my parents in my teens - "seriously, can you tone it down a bit guys?  You're embarrassing me here!"  But that is the very thing that demands my respect, demands my praise.  God doesn't apologize for who He is.  He is not a cuddly teddy bear God.  He is a just God who will do whatever it takes to draw a sinful creation back in for the hug you're afraid to accept.  For me, the tug on my heart is to worship and repent.  The tug is also to remember that my days - and the days of us all - are not numbered by us; they are numbered by God, and we know from the recorded history of man that they are, indeed, like a vapor (James 4:14).  My head is spinning today as I contemplate this nugget I came across on the Mars Hill blog:  Do you presume on the riches of His kindness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  (Romans 2:4)  As I contemplate Haiti and all the disasters that have come to pass just in my lifetime alone, it is hard to say I believe in a merciful, loving God.  My only answer is that I know in my heart it is true, it breathes of the deepest truth, deep down in the soul.  Yet, ...my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.  (Isaiah 55:8)

I am seriously thinking of switching us to rice and beans for a few weeks in honor of the Haitians and their traditional diet, now forced by poverty.  We'd probably save a few hundred dollars to donate. We'll see what my husband - the carnivore of the family - has to say about that! Anyone want to join me, and put the proceeds to Samaritan's Purse?

This is a test. This is only a test.

I think the testing is a very loving thing.  I want to put my full weight down on the faith that I have in Christ and see if it holds me up.  Here are the questions for the "faith exam":
1) Do you believe God is in control?
2) Do you believe that God is good?  No matter what you see, no matter what you face?
3) Will you wait on Him by faith until the darkness become light?

God is trying to get you to the place where you pass the test, the place where you answer these questions correctly.  That's a difficult process.

"I would have despaired unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13
~ from James MacDonald's Life is Hard series

I remember the days when double-slinging a 2 year old and a 6 month old seemed like the very hardest work life could dish out.  Then came baby number 3, and a mere 15 months after that, baby number 4.  There have been times when even just the sheer weight of mothering has crashed through the floor of my faith and shown me how much deeper the well goes that I imagined.  This analogy of faith as a floor echoes the word of the "Hall of Fame" of faith in Hebrews 11, which begins with a simple definition, Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1; to read the whole passage, click here)  I am still not at the place where I am sure of what I hope for, nor am I certain of what I do not see.  When Amelia's life was threatened, I lost an already loved unborn child, and cancer crashed in to break the floor of my faith this autumn, deep questions returned: Who is God?  Is He really good?  Am I okay with the fact that He is in control - and He is not steering me in a direction I want to go?  Will the darkness ever again become light??

Yet, through that test and others that have followed, God is building new support under the floor of my faith.  As He proves Himself over and over, proves Himself caring, compassionate, Holy, sacrificial, just, shows Himself as the source of life, joy, health, blessing, even healing - the new joists under those floor boards take shape.  The hollow area in the center has new support.  There are still holes in that support - there will be until I fully submit my mind, my body, my brain to this God who wants to be in control of every detail of my life.  But the floor is stronger today for the testing He allowed this fall.  I can put more weight down on my faith, and find, much to my surprise, that it bears up under the tests.

The testing I undergo now would be failed utterly and in even greater magnitude had it not been for the other tests that came before: heart problems as a teen; the loss of friendships to my own sins; lost time with family as I pursued the tarnished things of this world and hid my poor treasures from their eyes; the loss of a marriage that almost was; the loss of countless patients at work as a nurse; the struggles on the way to the altar with Aaron - the near heartbreaks and the suspense and anguish that came with it.  Then marriage, and children one after another.  Raising children 15-18 months apart is not easy.  In fact, it may be the hardest job I've ever had.  And it shaped me, and sanctified me.  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-3)  Steadfastness - it is from the Greek word ὑπομονή (hupomoné); which is formed by two words, ὑπό, the root for "hypo" (under or below); and μένω, which means "staying, abiding, making your dwelling or abode".  What God is creating in me is the ability to stay under, abide under, make my dwelling under these trials, whatever their intensity, longevity, or outcome.  It is not prideful to believe that following God and trusting Him, counting these trials joy, will in the end make me complete, lacking nothing.  That is my goal.  How far, far away it seems!  How long and hard the intervening miles that stretch as far as my imagination can envision.

We all face trials and the testing of our faith, daily, hourly.  What is yours right now?  A baby for each arm?  An illness in yourself or someone you love?  The many small annoyances that sometimes just flutter around the edges of our selfishness?  Inability to accomplish the task at hand?  Money woes?  Job in jeopardy?  Competing demands on your time?  A messy house? 

What amazes me is that, no matter how fragile the floor of my faith, beneath spreads the incomparable, immeasurable, unplumbable deep of my Father's love and faithfulness.  My faith is human, and as such, failing.  His never will.  On this the solid rock I stand, all other ground (my faith, my goodness, my talents, abilities, thoughts) is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand!

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,

My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.

Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
~ My Hope is Built, Edward Mote, 1834*

*Bob Dylan credits this song as part of the inspiration for "Solid Rock", written shortly after he converted in the late 1970's and included on his second post-conversion album, Saved.  How about these lyrics?? 
It's the ways of the flesh to war against the spirit
Twenty-four hours a day you can feel it and you can hear it
Using all the devices under the sun/And He never give up 'til the battle's lost or won.
Well, I'm hangin' on to a solid rock/Made before the foundation of the world
And I won't let go, and I can't let go, won't let go
And I can't let go, won't let go, and I can't let go no more.

Love Day 2010

Our coalition of small groups (the YAMs, or Young And MarriedS) hosts a fundraiser event annually.  This is the 5th year running.  Please join us, if you can!

God highjacks our happenstances

My marriage was recently revolutionized when I made a simple choice for the betterment of our children's sleep. For years, Aaron has assured me that my late nights don't disrupt our marriage at all. So I've taken him at his word, and stayed up to accomplish most of my housework and schoolwork during my peak energy hours, 10 p.m. to midnight. But the hustle and bustle - and even the clicking of the computer keys - seemed to be disrupting Caleb's circadian rhythm, and I made the difficult choice to attempt to accomplish things during the children's nap instead of after they were put to bed. The difficulty arose mostly from the fact that I really enjoy a nap with my children, usually several times a week. However, perhaps that nap is why I don't feel tired when the rest of the family does, between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.!

So we embarked on this change of schedule on Sunday night, after much discussion between Aaron and I about the pros and cons of such a choice. The change of schedule involved me going to bed with Aaron at 10 p.m. Doing school and housework during the day, not at night. Little did I know how much joy I was missing, falling asleep in my husband's arms each night.

I don't believe there is a Scripture that directly supports the choice to go to bed together every night as "Biblical". However, there is a verse in Psalms that has been of note to me for years: It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2) This taught me two things: a) don't eat the bread of anxious toil; and b) if you suffer insomnia, be in prayer constantly so that you can again be blessed by the sleep He gifts his beloved. It did not, however, teach me that I needed to go to bed at a certain appointed hour that is more "Christian" than my midnight bedtime. In fact, I have lived years according to what I learned from the great wife of scripture, the Proverbs 31 woman: She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. She watches over the affairs of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. (verses 15, 18 & 27; to read the entire monumental passage, click here)

Yet, in this busy season of illness and pain and recovery, rest is high on my to-do list. Soaking up my children and finding the joy in them is near the top (God and husband still trump kids; if you feel that is wrong or even controversial, please read why here). Finding joy in my kids is pretty darn easy when I am well rested. Caleb's constant night wakings of late have lessened that rest and therefore my joy. Thus, an earlier bedtime seemed an obvious choice for all.

What I love about this whole process is how it illustrates the fact that freedom in Christ is exactly that: free! I was free to stay up when I felt it was God's will for me to do so, now I am free to go to bed, abandoning work at a certain hour, because right now that is God's will for me. He uses the circumstances and happenstances (so some would call them) of my life to reveal His glory and His infinite, extravagant love for me and mine. I love that marriage is an organic, ever-changing, ever-beautiful relationship, always with something new to learn and enjoy. Really, this entire post is about praise for how God has moved in my life of late to bless me and keep me. As my mother oft quoted, Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. (Psalm 68:19)

A wonderful, fellow Christian blogger & homeschool mother, much older in her faith than I, recently wrote about her love journey with her husband. I found it inspiring and encouraging. I hope you do, too:


...wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart. He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (from Psalm 104, ESV)

Just between the two of us

My anonymous comments have been increasing again of late, all of them with criticism to offer regarding my choices to continue my education and have a large family at the same time. Please read my remarks on this subject and other difficult subjects from 2009, and know that no anonymous comments left without contact information or a name at the end will be posted to my blog.

May I point out a great passage in Matthew 18, which deals with the brother who sins against you? It tells exactly how to approach another Christian if you feel their ways are in error, and leaves no room for unsigned anonymous comments. I read each of the comments submitted, and many cut to the core. My purpose in writing this blog is to be an example of the realities of Christian faith, the daily working out of my faith, the daily small steps in sanctification, the trials, missteps, and sins that make me a real person, wife, mother, sister, student - a real person in real need of God's saving grace - not the Sainted Cancer Survivor some imagine. Please choose your words wisely, with prayer and kindness and grace. I take them deeply to heart, and wish there were a way I could interact with you, Anonymous Reader, so that I could explain myself and perhaps tell you how deeply your words hurt.

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Frozen on the line

The thing that binds me to cloth diapering is the softness. Simply the cloaking of a newborn's fresh, fragile skin in the velvety touch of cotton instead of the crunch of plastic. I started, haphazardly, when Katrina was about 2 weeks old, lucky enough to have a diaper service. I have continued, off and on, for these 6 1/2 years.

I went out to the line today, and this 5 months of trial crystallized in those moments standing on the 3 feet of solid snow crust. The air glistened with little glints of frost blowing out of the low-hanging somber pine that stands just to the east of my clothesline. I breathed in the blue white of winter air and looked soberly at the line. Diapers frozen in time.

They hang out in the summer, breathing deep of sunshine and daisies. They hang out in fall, among the scarlet leaves and Jack Frost nights. They hang out in spring, coming in damp and soft as soft from the first gentle rains. Even in winter, they stand there like stiff witnesses to mother love and stubborn refusal to pay high prices.

Never before, though, have they been frozen to the line for 5 long months. Not through the birth of babies, or deaths of relatives, or fainting spells or cancer. Today they crunched under my fingers, hanging on with their frozen creases to the line they had hugged since October. I've often thought to get them down. But haven't trekked across the crust, wading through the soft deeps and breaking trail through the drift by the water pump. No need to. Who has time to cloth diaper when the laundry stands 6 loads deep just to keep us in clean clothes?

Truth be told, I didn't even hang them out myself. A friend did it for me, in the first trembling, wary cold of October, when Amy lay recovering from influenza and waiting for surgery on her tonsils. Before encephalomyelitis, before seizures, and comas, and spinal taps, and chronic brain inflammation. Hopeful days, when I thought it would be a week of wading through trial at most.

His long body has grown since the last time we wore these covers. He is fascinated, today, with the bright colors, the touch of the cotton, the sudden wetness when he lets loose. Hopefully it will be a nudge toward potty training for both of us, clinging so desperately to babyhood and other kinds of ease. The motivation will come from wetness for him, and stink and laundry woes for me. Yet...he afraid to fall in, like all little kids; I, afraid to fall out of this stage of life and into the next. The stage where I have no babies in my house. I don't recognize that type of living. I haven't ever lived it with Aaron. I don't know exactly how it will fit my skin.

So today we started again, this cloth diapering business. Pried the frozen diapers from the frozen line, and began anew something abandoned since those early days of October. Our lives look so drastically different in some ways, and so familiar in others.

We live with chronic pain for the moment. We live with stumbling, crossed eyes, fumbled words, headaches, occasionally vomit. Life is messy. Always has been. Is a little more now than usual. I am struck a little dumb realizing how still I've become in 5 months of suffering. I look around at my home, and see how I have maintained the central area, neat, functional, happy. Yet all around the edges the neglect crowds in: closets needing organization, laundry out of control, dirt on the baseboards, abandoned piles in the basement storage. Cloth diapers pails that sat empty for a long, long time.

So here we go again. Back into the swing. Hoping to sing while we do it.

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
"From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?
Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!"

Then Job answered the LORD :
"I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more."

~ from Job 38 & 40 ~

Come along if you can

Aaron and I and three friends are lucky enough to be attending what sounds like it will be an awesome conference on January 30th. Mark Driscoll is coming to present his series on Song of Solomon in a single, jam-packed day at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. Join us if you can! I'll be calling in the morning for tickets.

Someday I guess I will post the story of why this guy is important in our lives. As with many stories in our mutual history, it begins with the Glovers, takes some amazing, God-could-only-make-this-happen detours, and ends with us being willing to spend $120 to recapture an amazing moment of the past. Trust me, it will be worth the moo-la.

Whatever you do for the least...

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

~ Khalil Gabran, the Lebanese American author, On Children, 1923 ~

My bow bends so far in these early days of a semester. My thoughts fly quickly and frequently to the duties of school, newly resumed, and seemingly so pressing. One class this semester calls for a hearty dose of self-reflection, and today one student spoke about how her children's interruptions remind her what is really important in life. I find this humbling, and wish I could say so myself. As it is, I find school so infinitely more interesting, noble, and worthy of consumption of my time (keep in mind I often speak tongue-in-cheek) than the more mundane, laborious, continuous work of raising children. I feel, at times, that it is a bit ridiculous that God gave me a brain for research and science, and now I am teaching sums, reading, phonics, taking dictation from a 6 year old (and all that is ignoring the mono-syllabic communication with my youngest). I remember pondering this same conundrum when wiping some unrelated child's behind for the 100th time in a shift: seriously, why is it that my scientific mind is reduced to such a task? Yet, the wiping of the behind was infinitely more important to that one child than all the research in the world at that moment.

In the gifting of these children from my womb, God has spoken loud and clear. Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. (Psalm 127:3) The trick is learning to drink the blessed cup that is offered. As in every stage of life, there is always a pasture that appears greener, more desirable. For me, in this time, it is often uninterrupted intellectual thought, or perhaps even an intellectual conversation with someone (!!), uninterrupted. Yet He has me walking this balance beam of school, work, children. Writing, grants, article to read; children, diapers, piles of unfolded laundry, dishes standing dirty in my sink. I have to take the dirt along with the intellectual polish.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 24:40) While I can make the stretch and say that my research is like the trunk of the tree, with branches spreading help to many of the "least of these" for perhaps decades or centuries to come. Yet, it is so much more obvious that the least of these are the children around my knees, pulling on my arms and begging my attention when I would rather be devoting it elsewhere.

John Piper tweeted, on October 20th, 2008 (rather ironically, I thought), that one of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time. I pray that my research does not prove the same thing. I pray it is but a parallel line in the story of how a faithful servant brought glory to the King she serves.

Also culled from Piper's Twitter, yesterday:
First this. Then coronation.The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned!” (Lamentations 5:16).

Weekend treats

Yesterday was Friday, and like many Fridays, it was a day of rushing about and finishing up the weeks busyness. Caleb clogged up the wheels by coming down with a violent case of strep throat in the middle of the preceding night, keeping both parents up with his raging 105 degree temperature and fussiness. The doctor at urgent care was only too happy to give us some antibiotics. Funny how "acute disseminated encephalomyelitis" begins to fade into the background noise of normal; the doctors at the U of M don't seem nearly as concerned. When you go back to your country doctors, though, they take notice! That urgent care doctor provided me with his cell phone number in case Amy should develop symptoms, so that antibiotics for her are only a phone call and a Walgreens trip away over the weekend.

Ali has been with us all week, helping lift kids, care for kids, and providing me extra rest after surgery. She is a trooper and a vision of God's grace in 17 year old form: dealing with a crippling migraine for seven days straight, she has been such a selfless helper nonetheless. Helps me put my own pain in perspective.

Sickness, and surgeries, and ongoing pain notwithstanding, the sun still streams into every corner of our lives and beauty still reigns 9 out of every 10 moments of every day. Our earth has not been shaken. Our house stands. We eat Rice Krispy treats for no good reason on an average Saturday. We are blessed. Unimaginably blessed, whatever valleys we have been through, whatever trials lie ahead. There is so much I have not lost.

Now to the one who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine according to the power that is working among us- to him be glory in the church and in the Messiah Jesus to all generations, forever and ever! (Ephesians 3:20-21)

When you think you’ve hit the bottom
and the bottom gives way
and you fall into a darkness
no words can explain
and you don’t know how you make it out alive
Jesus will meet you there.

When the doctor says, “I’m sorry,
we don’t know what else to do.”
and you’re looking at your family
wondering how they’ll make it through…
Whatever road this life takes you down,
Jesus will meet you there.

He knows the way to wherever you are
He knows the way to the depths of your heart
He knows the way because he’s already been
where you’re going
Jesus will meet you there.

When you realize the dreams you’ve had
for your child won’t come true
when the phone rings in the middle
of the night with tragic news…
Whatever valley you must walk through,
Jesus will meet you there.

~ Jesus Will Meet You There, Steven Curtis Chapman

Precious child

Amelia's neurology appointment on Tuesday bore some bad news. Aaron and I were right, the symptoms are subtly but surely returning as we weaned the steroids yet again. She was placed back on a stronger dose of steroids to keep the swelling and demyelination in her brain at a minimum. The longer she goes without healing, the more question there is about an underlying condition, or permanent brain damage. It is beyond heartbreaking to imagine our perfect, beautiful girl growing up unable to track with one eye, falling over and crashing into things, requiring six hour naps, having language and small motor skill difficulties. It is so hard to think that she may have permanent disabilities because of an illness that so suddenly, mysteriously struck out of the blue.

Yet I trust she is in His hand. He cares so infinitely much more about this dear child than do I. Hard as that is to imagine.

Keep Amelia in your prayers, as she is throwing up occasionally, having the afore-mentioned subtle changes that indicate increased swelling or demyelination, and taking longer and longer naps each day. Weird how, with one bad experience, you constantly feel at the edge of an unseen precipice. My pain continues as well, unresolved. Hoping the infection isn't taking stronger hold in my abdomen. Praying some doctor, somewhere, will someday have a clear answer and God will heal me.

Why epidemiology matters

I became a nurse, like many other nurses I know, to do heroic things: bathe feverish foreheads, stitch wounds, save lives and all that. I loved being a nurse for the same reasons. Clara Barton will always be my #1 hero (at least, after God, my husband, my parents, and Anne Shirley). Today I'm working on my PhD, and occasionally I lose that clarity in a haze of late-night writing, combing statistics, and endless literature searches. I wrote about epidemiology today (dry topic, I know), and felt a little of the old flame for nursing coursing through my intellectual veins. As I am too tired to come up with anything more creative or personal, I'm going to share a glimpse of my work at school here. Because it matters to me, personally, as a mother of a child with a sick brain and a cancer patient myself. And it really should matter to everyone in our nation at the moment, too. Try not to fall asleep now.

From my writing today on the subject why should nurses care about epidemiology:

I have a poignant memory of an "a-ha" moment I had regarding epidemiology, during my first residency week in 2007. I listened to a professor speaking eloquently about how we can define various populations of patients based on the statistics that describe them. In his presentation, he was focusing on the the fact that over 30% of health care expenditures are generated by less than 3% of the patient population, the "outliers" - the sickest of the sick. Epidemiology, as the study of frequency, risk, and cause of disease (British Medical Journal, n.d.), is concerned with disease both when it occurs in a majority, and when it occurs in a minority, like that infamous 3%. It is important to nurses, first and foremost, because being armed with information makes us more capable as we care for sick or hurting individuals. Yet it is important in other, more subtle ways, too: understanding disease and the statistics that surround it may help us identify those most at risk - either so we can eliminate them from a system governed entirely by cost, or so we can help them in a system governed by human compassion. We stand on a perilous balance beam between capitalism and socialism: should we provide services only to reduce risk, or compensate victims of risk with social insurance (Devarajan & Jack, 2007)?

Being identified as "high risk" could become a deadly game in a health care environment that is run by third-party payers (either private or public). We can no longer afford to walk into a doctor's office to obtain a diagnosis, nor can we afford to pay a nurse to come to our home to administer I.V. medications for our year of cancer treatment, any more than we can afford to buy a share in an MRI machine so we can have our brain scan or a cath lab so we can have a stent placed. Our ability to purchase health care is but a distant memory. Therefore, we are at the whim of the third party responsible for guarding - and financing - our health. Physicians face the conundrum of balancing the Hippocratic oath with a patient who cannot afford to pay for a service that is not truly within the power of the physician to prescribe or administer. Nurses balance beneficence and justice with hosts of minority, unemployed, or uninsured patients whose vast health needs build up over decades of missed preventative care opportunities and explode in a multi-million dollar inpatient care extravaganza that may do little to improve the patient's quality of life in the end. Insurers are left holding massive bills, and are faced with three unappealing options: increase the price, dilute the quality, or lessen the quantity. Who wins? Nobody. Who loses? Usually the patient. We, as health care providers, lose, too - as we throw up our hands and struggle to maintain our grip on our ethics, our dignity, and our show of compassion.

What happens to the "high risk" patient, and how does this relate to epidemiology? Epidemiology is at the crux of the ongoing debate about who should pay for health care, how much should be paid, what limitations are necessary and/or reasonable, and what happens to the 3% that generate such a huge percentage of annual health care costs. Epidemiology is how we established the 3%. It has the potential to identify the 3% long before they ever get sick, perhaps even before they are born, if the science of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis continues to explode (Verlinksy et al, 2002; Verlinsky et al, 2004). This could mean we rush in to find solutions to the problems that place this group at such high risk, or it could mean we abandon them even before they get sick, denying them coverage based on their risk (Davenport, 2009). Epidemiology has provided statistics that have allowed a business loophole for private insurers for decades when it comes to high-cost patients such as those with certain cancers or cardiac conditions (Schwartz, Claxton, Martin & Schmidt, 2009).

As nurses, this may affect us in two ways: first, it may tell us who requires the most intervention from a physical care perspective. It may help us identify populations in which our current preventative care methodologies are not effective and point our most innovative scientists in a direction for inquiry that will aid those most in need of new ideas and new approaches. Second, it may tell us who we must rush to protect. If health care becomes a statistics game based on an epidemiological formula, that 3% is in danger of becoming a severely marginalized, underserved, and vulnerable group. We need to design solutions that create a healthcare system that serves, protects, and rescues those most at risk, rather than a healthcare system that denies benefits, coverage, treatments, or help to those most vulnerable. The information is being gathered daily, globally, in electronic health records that are scrutinized by analysts and risk adjusters: the information is just information, not inherently good or bad, dangerous or ambiguous. As always, ethics is what we do with the information we gather in epidemiological study. The debate is the history of nursing concentrated down to a statistical percentage: epidemiology must be our call to arms, not our excuse to retreat.

British Medical Journal (not dated). What is epidemiology? Collections. Accessed online January 12, 2010 at http://www.bmj.com/epidem/epid.1.html.

Davenport, T. (2009). Why health care reform is vulnerable to smart analytics. Harvard Business Review: Information & technology blog. Accessed online January 12, 2010 at http://blogs.hbr.org/davenport/2009/11/how_how_analytics_and_could_di_html.

Devarajan, S. & Jack, W. (2007). Protecting the vulnerable: the tradeoff between risk reduction and public insurance. The World Bank Economic Review, 21 (1), 73-91. Accessed online January 12, 2010 at http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/wgj/papers/Devarajan-Jack-WBER.pdf.

Schwartz, K., Claxton, G., Martin, K. & Schmidt, C. (2009). Spending to survive: Cancer patients confront holes in the health insurance system. Washington, D.C.: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Accessed online January 12, 2010 at http://www.cancer.org/downloads/accesstocare/Spending_to_Survive.pdf.

Verlinsky, Y., Cohen, J., Munne, S., Gianaroli, L., Simpson, J., Ferraretti, A. et al (2004). Over a decade of experience with preimplantation genetic diagnosis: A multicenter report. Fertility and Sterility, 82 (2), 292-294.

Verlinsky, Y., Rechitsky, S., Verlinsky, O., Masciangelo, C., Lederer, K. & Kuliev, A. (2002). Preimplantation diagnosis for early-onset alzheimer disease caused by the V717L mutation. JAMA, 287, 1018-1021.

Hearing the call

The naked wood, bare and brittle and dry, is as much a part of the tree's life as the sap's rising in the spring. The Lord is still in charge, still moving in mysterious ways even when He gives the enemy of our souls permission to trouble us...To ask why implies a conviction that there is a reason somewhere. Somebody must be responsible for this.
~ A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship between God's Mercy and Our Pain, Elisabeth Elliot

Did you know I was a librarian? For 8 years? It was my first job - a volunteer position my mother finagled for me at the local public library at the age of 12. I learned Dewey Decimal, card cataloging, and became intimately (and fearfully) familiar with the dusty, cob-webbed annex in the attic of a century old building on our town's tiny Main Street. In college, I ran the reserve library - the place where pre-Internet students went to request microfiche copies of articles in scholarly journals, where I was connected by telephone and fax data line to millions of librarians elsewhere in an spiderweb of data strung along hard wires the world over. Books have been passionately, intimately wound through the song of my existence since my earliest memories of childhood. They are the friends I still turn to in the darkest solitude and grayest dusk of days of trial.

There is one book that has quietly trumped all the others I've read: it's sophistication, nuance, provocation, hilarity, command, and humility intrigue me. It is, of course, the Bible. The Living Word. I didn't quite believe in it's power for so many of the years I read it. I read the hollow words of promise that didn't ring true at the time: so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11) I pondered the esoteric words of John 1, and wondered if anyone could ever understand it: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Has anyone ever reckoned this statement? Has anyone ever understood it?

Why do we, as a culture, a society, a world, still cling to words that seem so meaningless and centrifugal? Why does this one book still command so much attention from me, an intelligent, cynical, wounded, floundering human being? What is there, in these confusing words, that rings true to the core of my being, that demands a response, that begs me dig deeper?

I am not alone in the world. I am held every night by the dearest, sweetest, hardest-working husband. My neck is held gently by baby hands, little feet cling to my hips through the day and the long dark night. Children clamor about me for love and attention. Even in death, you could say I don't have fear: I've left something on this mortal clod to be recognized, valued, admired. It isn't emptiness that baffles me, but rather that sixth-sense that there is something in that dark void. Someone. Someone who appeals to my rationality, my emotion, my intellect, my curiosity. It is the recognition that to ask why is to imply that there is someone responsible. There is something bigger, larger than the scope of my life, grander than the conglomeration of those who surround me and support me.

Amy Carmichael says that underneath are the Everlasting Arms. When anesthesia kicks in, and you are left crucified on a meaningless physical cross, stranded on an operating table with your fate sealed in the hands of a error-ridden surgeon and a team of human skill and mistake, underneath are the Everlasting Arms. You don't go into the void alone. You don't come to without sensing that deep, everlasting, conquering presence that has sustained you and held you through the hours of darkness and the months to come of suffering and healing. He is there with you. Forever. Whether you realize it or not. I am not - this selfish human form I inhabit - the purpose or reason for any of this. He is. I don't live or die for narcissism. Blogging isn't about what does or does not occur in my life. It is about how I am held. How I am loved, extravagantly. How grace is poured out, mercifully. How vigilant, kind, sovereign, just, omniscient this God is, who I serve.

I can't bring you to the trough if you don't want a drink. I can't open the Book to blind eyes. I can't speak to a deaf heart. What God has spoken to my heart, I will faithfully echo. What He sings through every melody of my life, I will harmonize. What He cares for, and loves, and heals, and serves, I will proclaim.

Without him, I am just a bare bones body on a funeral pyre. Without him, I am hopeless in a desolate world of pain. Without him, I am simply a legacy of a few generations, a voice of suffering in a world of complacency. I am just a cancer-ridden woman in a sea of healthy, shocked acquaintances who read my words and weep for my pain and move on for their sanity.

Don't weep for my pain.

Don't move on for your sanity.

Find out about this Word that changes and heals you at the core of your being.

Get to know Him.

Learn to love Him.

Live to serve Him.

Die for His glory.

Don't just let this be words that pour over you and never soak in.

He is calling.

Calling you.

Jesus sought me when a stranger

I long to reclaim a toddler's spirit of faith. All it takes to make a beautiful day, peace and safety, is Papa. My niece, Susan, here ignores the cold floor, the lack of a proper bed to sleep in at night, and a dozen other comforts she might have desired, if she had thought of them. But her gaze is fixed upon her Papa. She finds all the beauty, peace, safety and comfort she desires there in his eyes.

Through the daily sufferings and disappointments, may my eyes never be removed from the face of my Father. O to grace, how great a debtor! Daily I'm constrained to be. Grace that brought me home for eternity through the Cross. Grace that preserved my life through the latest surgery and infection. Grace that knows every day between my beginning and end. How His kindness yet pursues me, mortal tongue can never tell; clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me, I cannot proclaim it well.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise his Name, I’m fixed upon it,
Name of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.
~ Come Thou Fount, Robert Robinson, written at age 22 in 1757 ~


Worn out (but home)

I came home from the hospital a little while ago. Very, very tired. I can definitely tell I've been sick since November. I am hoping the latest surgery will be the last I have for years to come. Please continue to pray for complete healing. I still have quite a bit of pain, and developed a reaction to one of the antibiotics they had me on. Now I am on a single, strong antibiotic, and will remain on it for 3 weeks. There is a litany of possible complications due to the necrotic tissue in my abdomen and two surgeries in one area in so short a time. Please pray that my recovery this time would be complication free. I have mild signs of returning kidney infection, but the doctor chose an antibiotic that will treat kidney infection, too.

More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

~ More About Jesus, Eliza E. Hewitt, 1887 ~

A word for 2010

To stay; to continue in a place; to have one's abode; to dwell; to sojourn;
To remain stable or fixed in some state or condition;
To endure; to sustain; to submit to.
To bear patiently; to tolerate; to put up with.
To stand the consequences of; to answer for; to suffer for.

This year I will stay with God, continue in this place, take up my dwelling as a sojourner in a land of suffering; fix myself in a state of submission and endurance; bear cancer patiently, learn to tolerate it, stand the consequences of.
I will suffer for Christ.
Cancer is the mirror in which I see glimpses of bittersweet glory on earth. The reflection of Christ's love in a million small ways. The image of submission in my life. Cancer turns my imagination toward heaven, that blessed and everlasting healing of my mind, body, and soul. The pool of deep thoughts. This year, I will learn to abide with cancer - with God - in a new way.

I challenge you: pick a word for 2010?

idea culled from Ali Edward's resolution

Reconciling a complicated God

I was in too much pain to sleep, so I read Jeremiah.

Behold, I will lay before this people stumbling blocks, blocks against which they shall stumble; fathers and sons together, neighbor and friend shall perish. Rejected silver they are called, for the Lord has rejected them...the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath. (6:21, 30; 7:29)

In times of sorrow, suffering, anger, questioning, how do I reconcile verses like these with verses on which I lean on for strength:
  • Behold, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5b);
  • Blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, who trespasses are not counted against him (Psalm 32:12);
  • though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4);
  • the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
How is that the same God we worship for His mercy, love, grace, self-sacrifice, joy, kindness, beauty also be the God who rejects, destroys, causes us to stumble, is angry, just, and perfect?

Am I so arrogant as to think that my sin is forgotten because of any merit of my own? Rather, it is because the Father's gaze is fixed on Christ's sacrifice rather than my piddly, proud, pinching, puny and palinological sin!

Confusing, so confusing. Comments would be much appreciated!

Pain doesn't lie

Chalk the typos up to an oxygen probe on my pointer and a lot of Dilaudid along with a cocktail of anesthetic, anti-nausea, and narcotic medications. Yesterday my pain - the pain that was supposedly resolving - flared up in a big way. I went from pretty active, living with mild chronic pain, to on my knees in the kitchen, vomiting, hyperventilating and feeling like perhaps I was dying. We spent yesterday in our vacation home (a.k.a. The ER), and underwent some very gruesome and painful tests. My small group will no doubt recall my memorable description of certain types of ultrasound that shall remain unnamed here. In addition to that, I had a CT scan with triple contrast. The contrast is given I.V. and you are also asked to drink 1 liter of it. And then there is one more hole that must receive contrast. If you wish to know the gory details, visit this link. *I do want to note that the contrast given via the 3rd orifice is 1,000 cc's - think one Nalgene bottle. Yeah. NOT pretty.* Suffice it to say it is very painful, especially with so much pain in your abdomen already. I have added that procedure to a long list I falsely, cheerily reassured patients about: I won't be quite so cheerful next time I describe this "simple" procedure to another patient!

All the tests showed very little: some thickening on one side of my uterus, a dark area where one of the tubes was removed, and a small amount of blood in my left lower abdominal cavity. Nothing that could explain the pain I was having, nor indicate a clear treatment plan. I was put on a narcotic drip, medicated for nausea, and admitted overnight for pain control with no real plan of action. This morning, the doctors all concurred that surgery was necessary, even though no clear-cut cause could be identified with less invasive testing. I was getting septic again - meaning whatever was causing the problem was now invading my blood stream - and just generally felt miserable. I still had that familiar moment of panic when they laid me out on the "cross" that is an operating table. I always want to get up, start pulling wires off, and say I've changed my mind. Today a simple verse sustained me: What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee. (Psalm 56:3) That, and my anthem of late, Never Let Go:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
Your perfect love is casting out fear.
Even when I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life,
I won't turn back, I know you are near.

I will fear no evil,
For my God is with me,
And if my God is with me,
Whom then shall I fear? Whom then shall I fear?

Oh, no, you never let go,
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh, no you never let go,
In every high and every low
Oh, no, you never let go,
Lord, you never let go of me.

I can see the light that is coming for the heart that holds on,
I can see an end to these troubles, but until that day comes,
Still I will praise you, Still I will praise you, Lord.

I sang the song aloud to my operating room staff after praying aloud for their skill and wisdom. I am always uncomfortable doing that - but it eases my fears and allows me to connect in a personal way while in a very impersonal environment. There are invariably tears on my part and theirs. I won't just be a chunk of nameless flesh on the operating table, draped into oblivion. I won't pretend that "routine" means "easy". Surgery is a very big deal to me.

So, what did they find that wasn't showing up well on the many ultrasounds and CT scans that were ordered? Some necrotic (dead and infected) tissue on the side of my uterus and throughout the area where my left Fallopian tube was removed. They cleaned out the black stuff, washed out my abdomen with antibiotics, and started me on a very specific, strong antibiotic. I am expected to be in the hospital at least through tomorrow noon-ish. Possibly longer as my pain may not be well controlled for a few days yet.

I woke up after hours and hours of blessed, restful sleep. The anesthesiologist put a wonderful little Scopolamine patch behind my ear, which seemed to completely prevent my normal vomiting post-surgery. My pain persists, although the highs aren't quite as excruciating and the lows even lower than before. I am praying for an easier recovery than last. I did have another Foley catheter for most of the day today, which puts me at risk for another kidney infection. Please keep my recovery in prayer. I am also still praying that this will be the 'magic bullet' that ends this long 3 month battle with my health. I start school again tomorrow, once again logging in to class from the hospital. Praying it is the last time I do that.

Hello, 2010!

Here it is...the long awaited next year, 2010. Hopefully, a year of health and peace for our family. If it is, to God be the glory. If not, to God be the glory as well.

These photos are from a few days ago. What do you do when cancer lurks once again in the wings? Pull out a tea set! (I should have been a Brit)